Prepared by Samir B. El-Bahgori
Thousands of people from all countries gathered in Alexandria to attend the yearly celebrations held for Apollo, the god of the heathens responsible for wandering among the planets and stars. The great idol was put in a large courtyard in King Decius' palace. During these celebrations, which lasted for a month each year, people used to dance and sing all night long.
All people admired the greatness and beauty of the idol Apollo. It was made of alabaster, meticulously shaped; its hands were of pure gold. One of the spectators, unusual to attend, was a Christian jeweler called Matra. He looked at the idol in amazement wandering among the people to hear their comments on the greatness of the celebrations and the excellence of Apollo.
While wandering, he heard the voice of the herald announcing the actual start of the festival and commanding all people to worship and raise incense for the idol otherwise they would be killed. Matra returned home that night very gloomy. When his wife asked him about the reason behind his sadness, he told her what had happened. She tried to lighten the matter showing indifference in order to hide her disturbance but in vain. Matra spent the whole night praying and asking the Lord to have mercy on His poor people.
Thousands of heathens came to worship the idol to satisfy it and ask for mercy. In the evening, reports were presented to the king to the effect that all people attended and worshipped the idol but for one sect, namely, the Christians. Thus, the governor commanded that any one who might be Christian should be arrested and ordered to worship the idol otherwise, he should be killed.
Matra observed what was happening carefully. He saw the soldiers breaking into the houses of those who might be Christians. Another night passed during which Matra was sleepless. His prayers during that night were deeper and more fervent. He felt that Heaven received his prayers joyfully. Two hours after midnight, he left his house to the hall in which stood Apollo so great and challenging. No one was there but the guards of the god who were asleep.
He looked at the idol as if for the first time. “Eh! O, the idol thus standing in hollow pride, looking at nothing and smiling so devilishly! What power have you o, made by men?” Matra looked around gnashing his teeth and said, “What would happen if I crushed your head O, fool?” He lifted his stick up and was about to crush the head of the idol but he retreated silently thinking that this would certainly produce a noise enough to wake those foolish guards. How do they think that this is a god, or the gods? Does it need guards? Ridiculous! Matra looked carefully to the hand of the idol made of pure gold. He held it with his experienced hand as a jeweler. He easily cut it and hid it among his clothes and went back.
Meanwhile, his wife was standing at the door of the house bursting into tears. As soon as she saw him, she cried unconsciously, “Dear husband, where have you been? I thought that the soldiers had taken you away. Pray tell me where you have been.”
However, Matra did not pay attention to his wife. He went upstairs to his room. His wife desired to hear a word from him. Before uttering a word, he took out the golden hand and put it on the ground. His wife was gazing at that treasure with bewildered eyes while thousands of questions wandered in her mind.
“What is this? Where have you found this treasure? Is it ours? We’re rich then. We’ll leave this beggarly house and buy a beautiful palace. Farewell O poverty. We used only to look at gold but now … ”
“O, woman aren’t you tired of talking? Enough of that please.”
“How can I stop talking while you didn’t tell me to whom this treasure belongs?”
“Sister, it’s the poor’s.”
“How can it be? Who gave it to you?”
He ignored her questions and went on working all the night and the following day. Finally, he melted the hand of the idol, changed it to thousands of small golden pieces and put them into a large cloth bag. On Sunday, at noon, dozens of the poor and the needy came to Matra’s house. They sat in the courtyard of his house as usual. He served them splendid food not as they used to since Matra was a poor man. However, he used to give the poor what remained, after getting his essential needs, which was but a little. Thus, they were bewildered. At that time, Matra stood and said to them that it was time then not to beg for, this was degrading and he told them that they would live honorably. They looked at each other astounded seeing in front of them a big amount of fine clothes which he distributed among them. Before they went out of his house, he had given everyone of them a hundred golden pieces advising them to use what they took honestly either in trade or any profitable business.
However, Matra was still busy thinking of his poor brethren who did not come to his house. He soon took a large sack of clothes in which he put the bag containing the golden pieces and went to each one of them. After carrying out this task, he slept calmly and satisfied that night. Meantime, the king knew that the golden hand of the god Apollo had been stolen and neither it nor the thief could be found.
The king got fiercely enraged. The guards and their captain stood trembling before him while listening to the king’s threats. The captain asked him for an extra period of time during which he would bring the stolen hand. The king appointed a period of three days. The soldiers doubled their efforts to find any path that would lead to even part of the truth but in vain.
The government was compelled then to offer a big financial reward: a thousand Roman golden coins to any one who would inform about the thief or bring the stolen hand. Two days passed while they found nothing. On the third day, the captain was extremely sad thinking of his miserable fate for, remained but few hours and nothing could be found.
Suddenly, a poor man came and said to the captain, “I know the thief.”
The captain stood very attentively, held the man’s shoulders and asked, “Where is he?”
“I can’t tell you now.”
“How can it be?” The captain tried not to be nervous and said, “When then will you tell me?”
“Give me the reward first.”
“Impossible, tell me first.”
“These are my conditions. You can accept or refuse them.”
The captain tried to be kind with him, “You puzzle me O man. By god tell me who’s the thief. We arrested thousands of Christians as they’re the only enemies to our gods. Come and see them.”
The captain held the man’s hand and took him to a wide place, used sometimes as a theatre for showing the Roman plays. It was used then for torturing the Christians in order that thousands of spectators could attend. The man followed the captain and saw the Christian rich being tortured and in a very bad condition. The man closed his eyes unable to bear what he saw. He shouted loudly at the soldiers, “These are all innocent. Let them go. I know the thief.”
The soldiers responsible for these collective torture operations were astounded, stopped working and looked towards the strange man who in turn looked at the captain and said, “Give me the reward and you’ll know everything then.”
The captain took him out and fetched a bag containing a thousand golden coins, gave it to him and said, “Now tell me where the thief is.”
The man looked at the bag rejoicingly and said, “Give me only one hour and let whoever you like to accompany me and I’ll return soon with the thief.”
“Then, leave the money here.”
“Never, the only condition is that I take it. It’s mine.” He arrested the bag with his hand.
Because of his insistence, the captain accepted this condition and commanded one of the trusted faithful soldiers and brave to accompany him.
The soldier went with the man wherever he liked. After some minutes, he reached a very poor hut. He knocked the door. Some one looked like a beggar came out. The man gave him a handful of the golden coins wishing him a happy future. Some minutes later, the man knocked at the door of another hut. A poor widow came out of it. He greeted her respectfully and gave her a handful of the golden coins and left accompanied with her good wishes. The same episode was repeated. Before the hour passed, the man had finished distributing the golden coins. The soldier, who treated him gently all the way according to the captain’s orders, looked at him saying, “Where’s the thief?”
“Let’s return to the captain quickly. You’ll see him there.” The man said.
“Is he one of the arrested Christians?”
The soldier had no choice but to return with him to the captain. As soon as the captain saw them, he hurried towards them. To his surprise, he saw no one else with them. “Where’s the thief? Why are you coming alone? Do you want to deceive us?”
“No, no, I’m the thief.”
The captain was bewildered as if in a dream, “You! How?”
“I took the golden hand to return it to its owners.”
“O, lunatic! Who’re its owners?”
“The poor of course.”
“I understand nothing.” The captain cried.
“But I began to understand.” The soldier said. He told the captain what he saw and how the man gave the big reward to the poor and the needy regardless of their sect or religion.
The captain looked at Matra furiously and said, “I want to know the story from the very beginning. Tell me how and when you stole the hand? Where’s it now?”
Matra told him the whole story and said, “When I saw the golden hands I said to myself, “It’s the money which the Roman Empire gathers from us, the citizens, oppressingly. The Roman Empire steals our children’s living. The least to do is to return some of what the invaders stole.” Alas! I took one hand.”
The captain looked at the soldiers and said harshly, “All this happened while you were asleep.”
“It’s the god who should guard men while you guard your gods!” Matra answered instead mockingly, “What gods are these? I took his right hand thus, he couldn’t wave towards me. It seems that his left hand doesn’t work. I think that your god felt that his right hand was stolen only when he tried to lift it to drink a cup of wine and didn’t find it. But why didn’t Apollo use his tongue to lead you to me? The gods should be eloquent whereas, your god seems to be dumb.”
They were all bewildered. The captain shouted, “Hold his hand which stole great Apollo’s and put it in the fire to be burnt. Matra bore the fire as if a hand other than his was being burnt. They cut his hands. Before getting healed, they cut his legs also. Though he was handless and legless he never stopped praying or thanking God.
One of the soldiers asked him, “For what do you thank your God?”
“’Cause He gave me a chance to do good and share with Him His pains.”
At the moment, King Decius ordered that Matra be crucified like his Lord. The captain advanced and said to the king, “Pardon, the man has neither hands nor legs. How can he be crucified?”
Nevertheless, the king’s orders should be executed. The captain went out to execute the king’s orders. They brought the cross and put Matra over it. They nailed his shoulders thus, his flesh was torn. Meanwhile, Matra was praying. Before giving up his soul, a soldier beheaded him with the sword.
Matra was thus the first to be a martyr after this manner. Such a scene
Inspired them with a new type of torture.
“Do not fear the devil even if he was a soul without a body.
Nothing is weaker than him” (St. John Chrysostom).
Build me a Palace like Yours
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